- Un'eresia spagnola: Spiritualità conversa, alumbradismo e inquisizione (1449-1559)
If ever there was a first book that took your breath away, it was Stefania Pastore's Il vangelo e la spada, published in 2003. In that book Pastore rewrote the [End Page 544] early history of the Spanish Inquisition, and of much else besides, by rereading the classic texts of Spanish religious history from the mid-fifteenth-century Espina-Oropesa controversy over the conversion of the Jews to José de Sigüenza's monumental history of the Hieronymite order (1600–05), with a sharp eye for any signs of controversy and dissidence. Her patience and twenty-twenty vision were amply rewarded, for she managed to ferret out a remarkable array of expressions of discontent with the procedures and, more broadly, the very existence of the Inquisition. She then went on to uncover the numerous linkages, both personal and intellectual, that held together this alternative tradition of opposition to the increasingly powerful Holy Office and the conservative spirituality it sought to impose on all Spaniards. Pace the vision of a triumphant Inquisitorial society conjured by domestic propaganda in tandem with the Black Legend of Protestant enemies abroad, Pastore skilfully unveiled the existence of widespread discontent with an institution that generated bitter conflicts, beginning with the literally murderous rivalry between the Hieronymite and Franciscan orders that underlay the foundation of a tribunal unprecedented in its powers and jurisdiction.
In her new book Pastore revisits many of the same figures, issues, and texts, but with a different, if related, set of questions in mind. Her focus now is on the specific role of conversos, or converted Jews, in the bitter struggles within the Spanish Church during roughly the same time period. Once again, the Inquisition comes to the fore, as do many of the protagonists of the earlier study, such as the converso Archbishop of Granada Hernando de Talavera, the reformers Juan de Valdés and Juan de Avila, and the first generation of Jesuits. They are now joined by a new cast of characters, above all the early alumbrados, a loose network of mystics whose hostility or indifference to church ritual brought them to the Inquisition's attention in the 1520s, precisely at the time the Holy Office began to crack down on the more vocal followers of Erasmus. Pastore examines at length the writings of this bewildering amalgam of visionaries, prophets, charismatics, dissidents, and millenarians, many of whom were conversos. The common denominator she discovers among them is not crypto-Judaism, but a strongly Pauline Christianity that looked to the new faith as a source of individual illumination and emancipation from the external ritualism of the "old" law. This highly personal spirituality attracted support not only from descendants of converted Jews, but also from an unusual mix of reformers and rigorists, ranging from the early Jesuits to biblical humanists in Alcalá, Toledo, Baeza, and Seville. The former avoided serious trouble by eventually making a deal with the Inquisition; the latter, to their misfortune, wound up either in exile or burned at the stake, in a series of trials that culminated in the notorious Protestant autos-da-fe of the late 1550s.
Ironically, while Pastore's findings are provocative, her approach could not be more conventional. She has undertaken little archival research, and has uncovered relatively few documents on her own. Rather, she subjects a wide range of more or less familiar texts to a careful and judicious reading, informed by thorough familiarity not only with theological intricacies but also with recent developments in the dynamic and sophisticated religious history of early modern Italy. (Not surprisingly, Adriano Prosperi's recent reflections on the sacrament of confession, and [End Page 545] Massimo Firpo's ongoing excavation of the elusive trans-Mediterranean world of the Valdesians, loom large in the rich intellectual context that informs Un'eresia spagnola). The result is a gust of fresh air within...